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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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The Ulster Plantation then was not imposed on a universally reluctant population...

The Ulster Plantation then was not imposed on a universally reluctant population. It was nonetheless a major revolution in land ownership. In all, 280 Irish became landowners of some 94,013 acres. But seen against an estimated 365,097 acres to various English and Scottish grantees in the six Plantation counties alone, the scale of the revolution in land ownership can be appreciated. These figures also disguise cases such as that of Hugh O'Neill's half-brother Art McBaron O'Neill. He had fought against O'Neill in the recent war. But his reward of 2,000 acres was to revert to the crown after the deaths of himself, his wife and their survivor. It also included an agreement to move from his O'Neill (north Armagh) territory centred on Loughgall - then given to English undertakers- to the less fertile area of Orior in the south of the county. His son was Owen Roe O'Neill, military leader of the Irish Catholic Confederacy after the 1641 rising.

On the whole the Irish remained in occupation of the land...

How did those Ulster Catholics not included among the 280 grantees fare in the new order? On the whole the Irish remained in occupation of the land. Only the remaining swordsmen of the Irish lords or 'kerne' were totally expelled, some transported to continental service, others taking refuge as outlaws in the woods. But 'occupation' and 'ownership' are quite different things. The comparatively small number granted freehold and the loss of the top tier of Gaelic lordship (through the 'Flight of the Earls' and death in battle) pushed the gentry of Catholic Ulster down a tier. A new tier of lords had been substituted for the old and generally the main undertaker in each barony ended up occupying the residence and demesne land of the former Irish chief.

the original concept of a strong, segregated British (and Protestant) colony had to be abandoned...

We simply do not know how the bulk of the Ulster Irish reacted to the Plantation. The continuation of year-to-year leases on the estates of some Irish grantees (e.g. MacSweeney) suggests that they may have enjoyed greater security in new leases from the undertakers and servitors. Generally the Irish were supposed to receive shorter leases. But the 1619 and 1622 surveys suggest that many British settlers fared little better. In fact such was the general insecurity of title under the Plantation, with British grantees constantly under threat of confiscation for non-compliance with the original terms of their grant, and frequent prying commissions to check on them, that few were in any hurry to give tenants legal title. Certainly the original concept of a strong, segregated British (and Protestant) colony had to be abandoned. The Irish remained in the majority on all estates. Many of the settlers showed a preference for Irish ways and did not always comply with the terms of the original grants. Indeed the requirements for conformity to the established religion and the abandonment of Irish dress and agricultural methods were quietly set aside.

Why then did the Plantation create such bitterness? While many Catholics may well have fared a good deal better under the new dispensation than under the Gaelic land system, the elite did not, and it is their voice we hear. Moreover, because of the nature of Gaelic society - with its extended kinship networks, multiple layers of declined and declining families, and regular division of lands - there were many more people claiming status as gentry than had land to support such claims, and this at a time when social status was increasingly measured in land-ownership rather than lineage. It was this, the sharp decline in status, the resentment at being lorded over by upstarts and parvenus, which most determined the reaction of that elite to the Plantation, rather than actual dispossession.

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